High School Sports

Merced area wrestlers will have to overcome first-time jitters at state meet

Golden Valley's Caydin Wickard, right, wrestles Del Oro's Antonio Lorenzo, left, in the 106-pound finals match of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I-AA Wrestling Tournament in Turlock. Wickard is one of nine area wrestlers who will compete at the CIF State Meet.
Golden Valley's Caydin Wickard, right, wrestles Del Oro's Antonio Lorenzo, left, in the 106-pound finals match of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I-AA Wrestling Tournament in Turlock. Wickard is one of nine area wrestlers who will compete at the CIF State Meet. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Nerves will be at an all-time high for area wrestlers traveling to Bakersfield for the CIF State championships. Of the nine area wrestlers competing, eight will make their first appearance on the biggest stage California has to offer.

Only Delhi senior Jesse Flores has emerged from the tunnel at Rabobank Arena. The Hawks heavyweight finished seventh at last year’s state meet.

“It’s a big arena,” Golden Valley coach Chopper Mello said. “You go in that tunnel and then come out and it’s pretty big. It’s a different deal. I remember when I wrestled and the tournament was at (Pacific). I was pretty calm and collected, but when my name was announced for the first time it was nerve wracking.

“Mental preparation is a big key. I’ll be talking to my two guys about it on the drive up.”

Joining Flores at the state meet will be Golden Valley’s Caydin Wickard (106 pounds) and Brady Mello (152). Hilmar brothers Justin Rentfro (170) and Cody Rentfro (182) will be there, too.

Pacheco’s Anthony Velasquez (132) will be the first Pacheco boys wrestler competing at the state tournament.

The others making the trip are Buhach Colony’s Juan Rosales (160), Dos Palos’ Chance Benadum (160) and Chowchilla’s Matt Johnston (285).

The two-day tournament begins Friday at 9 a.m.

“I know it’s going to be a nervous experience,” Rosales said. “I have to be mentally prepared. My mentality has got to be strong.”

Dealing with a big crowd isn’t easy. Add what’s at stake when stepping on the mat and the pressure can be too much for some to overcome. Especially when they haven’t been in that environment.

“It’s a lot different,” Chopper Mello said. “The California state tournament is a big thing. You go out and there are 10 mats out there. Even as a coach, it can be nerve wracking.”

There are no easy routes to reach the second day or the medal stand, but many of the local wrestlers are going to face huge tests early.

Rosales opens against Central Section champion Brandon Martino of Clovis, who is ranked No. 2 in the state.

“I have to give it all I’ve got,” Rosales said. “He’s a Masters champion. I know he’s going to be good.”

Cody Rentfro will open up against Fremont’s Taniela Feliciano-Takafua in the first round. A win would likely set up a match against Buchanan’s Anthony Montalvo, who is ranked No. 1 in the state.

Brady Mello may have the toughest draw with a possible first-round match against Poway’s Quentin Hovis, who is ranked No. 1 in the nation at 152 pounds by Intermat. Hovis won three state championships in Arizona before transferring to Poway for his senior year.

Six of the area wrestlers are seniors. Velasquez (junior), Justin Rentfro (sophomore) and Wickard (freshman) have an opportunity to gain valuable experience for a possible return trip to the state tournament next year.

“It’s huge,” Chopper Mello said. “(Wickard) has three more years. If he can get on the medal stand – and that’s a very high possibility because he’s ranked 10th in the state; he’s beaten some of the guys ranked ahead of him – if he can get a medal, it would be huge for what he wants to accomplish. That kid wants to become a state champion.”

Shawn Jansen: 209-385-2462, @MSSsports

Local state qualifiers

106 – Caydin Wickard, Golden Valley

132 – Anthony Velasquez, Pacheco

152 – Brady Mello, Golden Valley

160 – Juan Rosales, Buhach Colony

160 – Chance Benadum, Dos Palos

170 – Justin Rentfro, Hilmar

182 – Cody Rentfro, Hilmar

285 – Jesse Flores, Delhi

285 – Matthew Johnston, Chowchilla

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